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School Board faces major decision

WINDSOR – The fate of four Bertie County public schools now rests in the hands of the county’s Board of Education.

In front of a large crowd gathered here Tuesday evening in the Bertie High School gymnasium, two representatives of Heery International, P.C. publicly released their findings of a school facilities assessment.

Listed among their four options was a recommendation n closing Askewville, Aulander and J.P Law elementary schools as well as shutting down Southwestern Middle School and constructing a new elementary school.

That suggestion also included extensive upgrades to the three remaining elementary schools in the system n Colerain, West Bertie and Windsor.

The overall price tag was estimated at $31.8 million, which included $13 million for the new elementary school.

“We will work through all this data presented to us by Heery International,” Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, Superintendent of Bertie Schools, said. “This is the data we need in order to move forward with our continuing strategic planning process as we build a five-year plan for our schools.”

Dr. Collins-Hart said the Bertie School Board will meet in closed session on Wednesday, Nov. 16 to begin the process of absorbing all the new data. Further discussion will take place when the School Board meets in December.

The comprehensive facilities assessment of the district’s elementary and middle schools were part of a Consent Order by Judge Terrence Boyle, United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. The Consent Order is the latest finding of a 38-year-old civil rights case filed on June 16, 1967, in United States v. Bertie County Board of Education. The original complaint alleged that the Bertie County Board of Education had failed to take adequate measures to eliminate the dual, segregated school system as it was required to do under Brown v. Board of Education and subsequent court decisions.

Heery International, a Raleigh-based firm, was hired to make recommendations addressing the lifespan of each facility; the capacity of each school to provide the programs needed for students; the economic feasibility and wisdom of renovating any facilities that are in poor condition; and strategic alternatives to the current assignment of students, including options designed to provide cost savings to the district.

On Tuesday, Heery representatives David Waggoner and Liz Moore revealed their findings. Waggoner said his firm reviewed the physical condition and educational adequacies of each of the system’s six elementary schools and two middle schools. Bertie High School was not part of the assessment.

A three-person assessment team looked at the schools where they documented items such as classroom size, roofs, doors, ceilings, flooring, plumbing, fire protection and mechanical and electrical systems.

“We found that all of your schools have some sort of square footage deficiencies when compared to the model we built of a modernized classroom,” Waggoner noted. “There are also deficiencies when it comes to meeting the guidelines of the American Disabilities Act. You also have major issues with site drainage and other landscaping issues.”

Waggoner then made a link between quality facilities and a good education.

“We are firm believers that quality facilities help deliver a quality education,” he said. “It makes a difference in a child’s ability to learn, and we have the data to support that fact.”

He added that Bertie’s facilities leave a lot to be desired.

“By, in large, your facilities fail to meet the needs of today’s students, much less tomorrow’s students,” Waggoner stressed.

Waggoner and Moore then laid out four options for the School Board to consider. All of the options took into account that both Southwestern and C.G. White middle schools were losing their students to the new Bertie Middle School, a facility expected to open for the 2007-08 academic year.

Option 1 was to spend a total of $34.85 million to renovate and keep open all six elementary schools. The school-by-school breakdown of those expenses were as follows:

Askewville – $5.96 million; Aulander – $2.26 million; Colerain – $5.8 million; J.P. Law – $3.9 million; West Bertie – $5.6 million and Windsor – $7.3 million.

Option 2 was to close Askewville and J.P. Law; renovate Southwestern to accommodate 250 students and make repairs and modernize the other four elementary schools. The option came with an estimated price tag of $35.7 million.

The third option was the cheapest ($30.9 million). It involved closing Askewville, Aulander and J.P. Law; renovating the remaining three elementary schools and upgrading Southwestern to accommodate 450 students.

However, it was option 4 (as listed earlier) that the consultants favored.

“That option is the most cost-effective solution as well as having the best long-term benefits,” Waggoner concluded.

In order to satisfy the Judge Boyle’s order, the Bertie Board of Education must address the facilities assessment recommendation as well as providing a proposed student assignment plan by no later than Jan. 15, 2006.

A complete history of the desegregation case can be found on the Bertie County School’s web site at: http://www.bertieschools.com.